Richard Grabel

The Ritz, New York, with Soul Asylum (May 6, 1988)





A FEW classics of hook-crunching melodic power aside, Soul Asylum have never really been about great songs or deep meaning or pop-rock dialectic or anything else, which is why the spurious comparisons they've often received to Husker Du are wrong. What Soul Asylum do best is riff-powered ramalambam rock, fast, furious and powerful and boy are they getting dangerously great at it.

With a new album about to be released, the set was heavy on new songs whose meanings and directions will have to be divined in calmer listening circumstances. On stage, Soul Asylum were here to wail. if main singer Dave Pirner's voice lacks range or finesse, he has learned to live within its limits and he keeps pushing back the boundaries of where his singing can go by sheer force of will. And he keeps getting pushed past those boundaries by a band that now pounds and hammers at the mythological giant Rock so relentlessly, that there is just no room for anyone, on the stage or off it, to be tentative.

They blasted guitar madness all over the place. They did it without succumbing to the coldness of modem metal overkill, without trying to embody some neo-Zep ideal, without any visible ideoIogical programe. Soul Asylum: no axe to grind, just axes to grind.

The Fall, on the other hand, are all about ideology. It's a major miracle that a band this calculating can be so entertaining, but there it is. Even Mark Smith's patented miserable bastard persona can't take a thing away from the fact that The Fall's present incarnation is an ingenious, well-oiled machine that spins a fascinating, captivating web of noise.

With wilfull cleverness, The Fall start their set at their most off-putting, with songs stripped away of all harmonic embellishments, leaving skeletons of harsh rhythm bones, set clanking around in a clumsy dance by Smith's croaking. But they move on, adding the sweetening bit by bit, progressing to their peppiest stuff, awash in densely orchestrated guitar inter- jangle and brazen melodies. Culminating, of course, in 'Victoria', by which time the punters in front of the stage are in a mad, hopping up and down frenzy and the rest of us are just glowing.

A scorching night.